We Are Lazarus; We Are Martha and Mary: How the Lord Raises Us to New Life

User’s Guide to the Fifth Sunday of Lent

Léon Bonnat, ‘The Raising of Lazarus,’ 1857
Léon Bonnat, ‘The Raising of Lazarus,’ 1857 (photo: Public Domain)

Sunday, March 26, is the Fifth Sunday of Lent.

Ezeziel 37:12-14; 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45 or John 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45.

In today’s Gospel, we hear the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. As is proper with all the Gospel accounts, we must not see this as merely a historical happening of some 2,000 years ago. 

Rather, we must recall that we are Lazarus; we are Martha and Mary. This is also the story of how Jesus is acting in our lives.

Let’s look at this Gospel in six stages and learn how the Lord acts to save us and raise us to new life.

He permits. The Gospel opens noting that a close friend of Jesus, Lazarus, is deathly ill. Sometimes there are trials in our life, by God’s mysterious design, to bring us to greater things. The Lord permits these trials and difficulties for various reasons. But, if we are faithful, every trial is ultimately for our glory and the glory of God. 

He pauses. “So when Jesus heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was.” Note that the text says Jesus delayed because he loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus. This, of course, is paradoxical, because we expect love to make one rush to the aid of the afflicted. Somehow our waiting is tied to strengthening us and preparing us for something greater. Note, too, how Jesus’ delay enables something even greater to take place.

He pays. Jesus is determined to go and help Lazarus even though he puts himself in great danger in doing so since they are plotting to kill Jesus in Judea.

He prescribes. Encountering Martha, Jesus inquires about her faith. Our faith and our soul are more important to God than our bodies and creature comforts. And so before raising Lazarus and dispelling grief, Jesus checks the condition of Martha’s faith and elicits an act of faith: “Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe.”

He is passionate. Coming upon the scene, Jesus is described as deeply moved, as perturbed, as weeping. 

In his human heart, Jesus experiences the full force of the loss and the blow that death delivers. Its full force comes over him, and he weeps — so much so that the bystanders say, “See how much he loved him.”

He prevails. “Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands …” 

In the end, Jesus always wins. You can skip right to the end of the Bible and see that Jesus wins there, too. Jesus can make a way out of no way.

He partners. “So Jesus said to them, ‘Untie him and let him go free.’” Notice something important here: Although Jesus raises Lazarus and gives him new life, Jesus also commands the bystanders to untie Lazarus and let him go free. Christ raises us, but he has work for the Church to do: Untie those he has raised in baptism, and let them go free. Jesus speaks to the Church — parents, priests, catechists, all members of the Church — and gives this standing order regarding the souls he has raised to new life: “Untie them and let them go free.” 

We are Lazarus, for we were dead in our sin, but we have been raised to new life. We are also the bystanders. Just as we are in need of being untied and set free, so do we have this obligation to others. Just as Jesus involved the bystanders then, he still involves the Church (which includes us) now.

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